Wednesday, May 31, 2006

No apologies for the Century Building

Circa 8:30pm, Sunday evening -- the night before Memorial Day, a holiday weekend. My lovely ladyfriend and I are strolling back to our hotel after a visit to the Gateway Arch grounds (during which I ranted at length about the physical disconnect between the Arch and the city it symbolizes). It's getting late, and we're getting hungry.

TGIFriday's, the first place we come upon, is mobbed, seemingly with Arch tourists -- a 20-30 minute wait. The new place on the other end of the block is the same way. We're hungry, don't want to wait. We keep going.

The rest of the way, we don't see a soul on the streets. We don't pass a single bar or open restaurant. We hardly see a light anywhere. Downtown was deserted. I had a hard time explaining to my companion how this could be.

We ended up driving down to Soulard, where we promptly found a local bar that seated us immediately and served us a tasty meal.

Monday morning, 7:30am, I wandered the same downtown streets. In 20 minutes, I saw a total of 7 people. Then I came across a lone Starbuck's, open for business and doing quite well, with a dozen or so customers coming, going, and sitting.

My points?

- There's still untapped potential downtown. The businesses that were open were doing well.
- Downtown still has a long way to go to become a working urban environment, and therefore
- Downtown cannot afford wastes of urban potential, and therefore
- Tearing down the Century Building and all the office, residential, and retail space it could have held was a huge mistake, and putting up a garage in their place is an even bigger one.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Goodbye and good riddance to the Whaling Wall

Milwaukee lost an iconic landmark this week, and I couldn't really care less.

The "Whaling Wall", a mural by an artist known as Wyland, adorned the Milwaukee County Courthouse Annex since 1997. It was well-known due to its position above the heavily-traveled lanes of I-43 southbound. There's been some hemming and hawing about losing the mural, which was demolished this week along with the last remnants of the aging, decaying Annex, a 1960s parking garage with a level of offices on top.

Frankly, I say screw the wall.

There are no whales in Milwaukee. In the wild, there are no whales within a thousand miles of Milwaukee. There is no aquarium here (well, that's due to change this year with the opening of the new Discovery World building, which will feature a modest aquarium.) The whale mural, basically, has jack all to do with this town.

It is simply an advertisement for Wyland's art business, and a rather kitchy one at that.

The mural is hardly unique; Wyland has plastered them on buildings all over the country. And Wyland is hardly some starving artist struggling to find an audience; his web site is a slick commercial venture that looks primed for commerce on a fairly massive scale. For once, I agree with County Executive Scott Walker -- make the guy pony up to plaster his ad on the side of a public building. And for love of all that is holy, keep it off the pristinely Modernist building of the Milwaukee Public Museum, which Wyland has apparently been slavering over for ten years.

So, let the commuters lament the loss of the whale wall. I'll celebrate the now unobstructed County Courthouse, an impressively massive Classical building that looms over the freeway like a mountain. There are causes far more worth fighting for in Milwaukee than preservation of a lowbrow mural.